The Thompson Building is a three and a half storey, masonry commercial building located within a row of commercial buildings at 303-305 Water Street, within the Water Street National Historic District in downtown St. John’s, NL. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
Statement of Significance
Formal Recognition Type
Registered Heritage Structure
The Thompson Building was designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1989 due to its historic and aesthetic value.
The Thompson Building is part of the oldest and most complete section of the pre-1892 Water Street landscape. Built after the Great Fire of 1846, this commercial building represents Water Street merchants’ response to the fire hazards of wooden construction. Rather than being made exclusively of wood, as many earlier buildings had been, the timber-framed Thompson Building was given brick nogging and a brick facade. This helped protect the building from serious damage decades later, when the Great Fire of 1892 destroyed most of the city’s downtown core.
The building was originally built for prominent Irish-born merchant, Richard O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer was also responsible for the construction of the neighbouring O’Dwyer Block and Murray Premises warehouse, both still standing on Water Street today. The Thompson Building has been home to many St. John’s businesses over the years, including a hotel, a restaurant and a number of shops. The building belonged to the Thompson family for several decades and was home to their jewelry business for over 30 years until the shop closed in the mid-1990s. Since the late 1990s, the Downhome Magazine offices and gift shop have operated in the building.
The Thompson Building’s façade is typical of a mid-nineteenth-century storefront, with its wooden base panels, recessed doorways and large picture windows. An eye-catching sign band features dentils and large moulded end brackets – the most elaborate feature on this otherwise simple commercial structure. As with most storefronts, the ground floor windows are the most prominent; the windows on the second floor are accented with simple stone lintels and sills, while the small third floor windows are unadorned. Five dormer windows are set into the mid-pitch gable roof. The building’s symmetrical façade creates a sense of unity with the neighbouring O’Dwyer Block, despite the Thompson Building’s plainer style. Both buildings are part of the Water Street National Historic District, a collection of downtown merchant buildings that make up the city’s mid-nineteenth-century commercial district.
Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador property file “St. John’s – Thompson Building – FPT 1656”
Character Defining Elements
All those elements which are reflective of the building’s construction as a pre-1892 Great Fire commercial structure, including:
-mid pitch gable roof;
-timber frame construction with 9 inch brick nogging;
-shed dormer size and placement;
-size, style, trim and placement of wooden dormer windows;
-size, style, trim and placement of regularly placed windows;
-large storefront windows with wooden base panels;
-prominent sign band, decorated with dentils and end brackets;
-simplicity of design;
-building location, orientation and dimensions;
-location of building in relation to the other historic merchant buildings that form the Water Street National Historic Street.
In recognition for excellence in heritage restoration, the Thompson Building received a Southcott award from the Newfoundland and Labrador Historic Trust in 1990.
Location and History
City of St. John's
303-305 Water Street
1846 - 1846
Rectangular Long Façade